It is a relatively exciting time to be an electoral reformer. The one major party that has always supported reform is actually in government. We know we are going to get a referendum on changing the voting system for the Commons, albeit only to Alternative Vote but many reformers think that would be a step in the right direction. Politically it was the only possible option and an acceptance of that seems to be sinking in. The fight will now be to win the referendum as a staging post for something better and much more proportional later once people are used to preferential voting.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
But another thing should be taken into account. As I blogged about yesterday, even under First Past the Post, hung parliaments are more likely these days. Under AV I think they would be even more likely because although it is not proportional, it will tend to favour the Lib Dems more than FPTP does. So if AV passes we can expect similar situations to that we were faced with on May 7th 2010 ever more frequently.
And this brings me to this crux of this post. What will the Lib Dems do next time they find themselves in hung parliament negotiations? This time as I said it was a political impossibility to get PR on the table from either of the parties. Even if Labour + Lib Dem had just pushed us over the magic 326 number there are far too many Labour MPs who would never vote for even a referendum on PR and almost all Tories would be against too.
I think that if we ever want to get PR we need to be more pragmatic about it. What I am about to suggest I am sure has some problems, indeed I can think of a couple straight away. However I think that something like it might be necessary if we are ever to get proper reform.
Some MPs who are against PR are against it in principle. They think it would be bad for the country. That is fair enough and although I will strongly argue against those who think that they are unlikely to change their view. There are however some MPs who I think could be persuaded except for one thing. If PR came in they may well lose their job. It's the old "Turkeys never vote for Christmas" argument. I can completely understand this by the way. Most people would find it difficult to vote for something that may threaten their job. So we need to do something to mitigate this threat and allow MPs who fall into this category to put those fears to one side and vote on the principle.
My idea is to make it so that any change to the voting system to a proportional system would be delayed by 10 or 15 years from the date of a referendum. On this sort of time-frame many of the MPs who may be persuadable of the positive benefits of a more proportional system but who worry about being out of a job in 2 or 3 years time would find it much easier to allow a referendum.
There may actually be some arguments for implementation of any positive referendum result to be deferred anyway. For example if we have only just changed to AV then making any further change probably should be deferred for a while. Also, there could be other constitutional changes being implemented in the next few years such as a reformed and elected House of Lords which could even be under PR itself. Those other changes may also need to bed in too.
Like I said, I know this proposal is not without its problems. I understand the issues about binding a successor parliament and about how a future parliament could reverse the decision or even just refuse to implement the result of the referendum. I am sure there are other problems too.
But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that without some pragmatic move like this we will struggle to ever get PR for the Commons. The votes just won't be there.
Turkeys however may just vote for Christmas if it is far enough into the future that it would not affect them very much anyway.